Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Conserved Bacton Altar Cloth goes on display

Friday, May 17th, 2019

Bacton Altar Cloth, 16th century silk and embroidery textile believed to have been part of a gown worn by Queen Elizabeth I. ©Historic Royal Palaces/Courtesy of St Faith’s Church, Bacton.

After three years of study and conservation, the Bacton Altar Cloth is going on display at Hampton Court Palace. None of Elizabeth I’s clothing has survived, although a number of accessories have, so this cross-shaped piece is uniquely rare.

The embroidered silk textile was donated to  St Faith’s Church in Bacton, Herefordshire, by Blanche Parry who was one of Elizabeth’s most loyal and dedicated ladies. She served the future queen starting during the reign of Henry VIII when Princess Elizabeth was a young girl and continued uninterrupted for 57 years, reached the exalted rank of Chief Gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth’s most honourable Privy Chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty’s jewels. The queen is known to have given Blanche clothes she longer wanted.

While there is no specific record of this particular textile being a royal hand-me-down, its materials and manufacture are so exquisite that it would have been literally illegal for a non-royal to wear such a garment. A monarchical provenance would also explain why Blanche considered the piece important enough to donate to her hometown church where her heart is also buried.

The altar cloth’s connection to Elizabeth I has been rumored for centuries. Recognizing its importance, in 1909, the church took it off the altar and placed it in a glass display case. In 2016, St. Faith’s asked Historic Royal Palaces to study the altar cloth.

On examining the textile, [Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri] Lynn – an expert in Tudor court dress – was able to identify previously unseen features, studying the seams of the fabric to confirm it had once formed part of a skirt.

Following the exciting discovery, Historic Royal Palaces – the independent charity that cares for Hampton Court Palace – agreed to commence a conservation programme to stabilise the fragile fabric in the palace’s world-class textile studio. Further examination of the cloth by experts has added weight to Lynn’s theory that it might once have belonged to the Tudor Queen. Its creation from high-status silver chamblet silk, use of professional embroidery including real gold and silver thread, and distinct evidence of pattern-cutting all suggest that the item could have formed part of Elizabeth’s lavish wardrobe. The conservation team were also able to test the dyes within the fabric, discovering that it contained expensive Indigo and red dye sourced from Mexico – the kind of materials only available to a person a very high status.

The embroidery is truly spectacular, a profusion of flora (columbines, daffodils, roses, honeysuckle, oak leaves, acorns, mistletoe) and fauna (peacocks, other birds, frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, caterpillars, fish, dogs, dear, squirrels, a crocodile, a bear). There are also small wooden boats being rowed by tiny embroidered people.

Detail of the embroidery of the Bacton Altar Cloth from the back: the bear. ©Historic Royal Palaces/Courtesy of St Faith’s Church, Bacton.

The exhibition will delve further into the use of these motifs in the Tudor era. One of the most important works on display, and one of the most significant pieces of circumstantial evidence for the altar cloth having been part of one of Elizabeth’s gowns, is the Rainbow Portrait (c. 1600 – 02), attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. It depicts Elizabeth in an embroidered silk gown with very similar imagery. It is being loaned from Hatfield House for the exhibition and this is the first time it will be on display at Hampton Court Palace.

Accompanying the painting will be a selection of rare domestic print books dating from the Tudor period, which would have provided inspiration for many of the embroidered motifs fashionable during Elizabeth’s reign – including those found on the Bacton Altar Cloth – brought together for the first time with other stunning embroidery work from the period.

The Bacton Altar Cloth will be on display from October 12, 2019, until February 23, 2020.

Share

Giorgione masterpiece loaned to Wadsworth

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

An extremely rare masterpiece by the Venetian Renaissance painter Giorgione has gone on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, from May 15 to August 4, 2019. La Vecchia (The Old Lady), is an unusual portrait of an elderly woman who stares open-mouthed at the viewer, reminding them that they too, if they’re lucky enough to live, will share her fate. It is being loaned to the Wadsworth by the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.

La Vecchia is Giorgione’s poetic response to the natural phenomenon of aging,” says Oliver Tostmann, Susan Morse Hilles Curator of European Art of the Wadsworth. “It is a milestone in European portraiture in which Giorgione shows old age with implacable explicitness. It prompts us to confront our own mortality and the inevitable truth of growing old.”

The hyperrealistic portrayal of a haggard woman looking directly at us both attracts and repels at the same time. With her lips open as if about to speak, she gestures to herself. In her hand is a slip of paper inscribed with the words col tempo, “with time.” Painted more than 500 years ago, the unsparing naturalism and representation of the effects of aging
are unexpected, a striking departure from the more familiar, idealized portraits of the time. A recent conservation treatment, funded by [the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture], has removed discoloration and breathed new life into La Vecchia.

What little biographical information we have about Giorgione comes primarily from Vasari’s  Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Vasari first introduces him in his chapter on Sebastiano del Piombo who began as a student of Giovanni Bellini but switched to Giorgione because the latter had “brought into Venice the newer manner, with its superior harmony and increased vividness of colouring.” Giorgione, who had himself had studied under Bellini, had such a profound influence on del Piombo’s style, Vasari states, that Sebastiano’s works were sometimes mistakenly believed to have been painted by Giorgione.

According to Vasari, Giorgione was born in 1477 (the date may or not be accurate) in Castelfranco Veneto, a small medieval town about 25 miles from Venice. Though of humble origins, Giorgione had fine manners, a love of literature and music (he was an excellent lute player) and was so dedicated to capturing nature that he always painted from life. He was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s keen grasp of anatomical realism coupled with the softness of color and shadows of his sfumato. Vasari compares Giorgione’s grasp of proportion, design and naturalism to Leonardo’s, saying his works “approached very closely to the excellence of his model.” His portraits were so life-like, Vasari says, that “the face appears to be real rather than painted.”

Giorgione’s talent was widely recognized in Renaissance Venice. He received multiple commissions for portraits, altarpieces and frescoes from the wealthiest and most important families. Sadly, his brilliant career was cut short. He was in his 30s when he died of plague in 1510. He died of plague, which Vasari says he caught from his inamorata.

Today only six paintings are indisputably attributed to him. Several of the ones Vasari mentioned are now known to have been painted by contemporaries like Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo. The only one in the United States, the Adoration of the Shepherds at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is of disputed authorship. The competing view is that it is an early work of Titian’s, and it’s a much more formal, less naturalistic scene than the portrait of La Vecchia. That’s why the Wadsworth exhibition is such a unique opportunity for people Stateside to view Giorgione’s work.

After experiencing Giorgione’ La Vecchia visitors will be invited to view the Wadsworth’s collection of Italian works of art including important Venetian Renaissance paintings by artists such as Sebastiano del Piombo, Tintoretto, and Jacopo Bassano. A group of deluxe books designed for and published by the famed Aldus Manutius—Venice’s leading purveyor of ancient and modern texts, known for their elegant design—are on view adjacent the Giorgione, as is the museum’s Andrea Previtali, Madonna and Child with a Donor in a landscape (c. 1504–05).

“Rarely do we have such a prime opportunity to reconnect with our shared humanity and with the Renaissance,” says Thomas J. Loughman, Director and CEO of the Wadsworth. “La Vecchia is without parallel in America as a major allegorical portrait by Giorgione, and this recent conservation provides the perfect occasion to learn and appreciate the
ideas behind the painting afresh.”

Giorgione (c. 1477/78–c. 1510), La Vecchia, 1502–08. Oil on canvas, 26 3/4 x 23 1/4 in. (68 x 59 cm), Gallerie dell’Accademia, cat. 272, © G.A. VE Photo Archive, Courtesy of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities—Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.

Share

Cracks in Viking Gokstad ship cause alarm

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

The largest preserved Viking ship in Norway, the Gokstad ship at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, is cracking. Two large cracks have appeared and museum conservators are sounding the alarm that the ship needs a comprehensive change to its support infrastructure before disaster strikes.

“When 1,000-year-old ship planks begin to weaken, the situation is extremely serious,” said Håkon Glørstad, director of the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History that’s responsible for the Viking ships. “Wood that’s so old doesn’t have the same flexibility as modern wood and can totally collapse, quickly and without warning.”

Glørstad told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that in its current location, “we can’t develop the overall support systems needed to secure the ship’s entire hull.” He said the current base is no longer adequate and the space around the ship too confined.

The bow and the stern are the most unstable parts of the ship. The rest of the hull is braced by a wood base and 12 additional supports. The bow didn’t get its own supports until last year when three were installed to help contain the shifts in movement that cause cracking. Last month supports were added to the stern.

The new supports have sensor technology that allow them to pull double-duty: keeping the ship as stable as possible and measuring its movements. The data revealed that the Gokstad ship is experiencing significant vertical and horizontal movements, enough to move the ship millimeters in both directions. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s huge in conservation terms and significantly above the limit of what a ship built in the 820s and buried for a thousand years can withstand.

Extra supports are only an emergency measure for the short-term. The Norwegian government has allocated funds to construct a new state-of-the-art building a hundred yards from the current one, but the grant hasn’t come through yet and construction can’t begin until it has. The most optimistic projection of when the new facility will be complete is 2025.

The Gokstad ship was unearthed in 1880 in Sandefjord, Vestfold, southeastern Norway. The mound where it was found was on a farm, and the sons of the owner began digging it out of the frozen ground looking for a royal treasure that was rumored to be buried there. Archaeologists were able to take over the job and unearthed the 9th century clinker-built ship, the remains of an adult man with cutting wounds indicating death in battle and highly significant grave goods although any gold, silver or weapons buried with him had been looted centuries earlier. It has been on display at the museum since 1932.

The other two Viking ships in the museum, the elaborately decorated Oseberg ship (discovered in 1903) and the Tune warship (the first Viking ship ever excavated, discovered in 1867), are more stable at the moment, but Oseberg’s enormous complement of wood artifacts have dangerously softened because of the alum treatment they received in 1904. Experts have been working non-stop since 2014 on saving them. The long-term condition, even survival, of the ships and their contents require that issues be addressed as they arise, not years in the future.

Share

Maurice Sendak: set & costume designer

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Maurice Sendak became famous as an illustrator and author of children’s books, most notably the all-time classic 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are, but his artistic abilities and interests lent themselves to much larger formats. The most wonderful mural a children’s room ever had, hand-painted by Sendak for his close friends two years before the publication of Where the Wild Things Are made him a household name, hints at what he was capable on a grand scale. Now housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s South Philly branch, it is Sendak’s only known mural.

Almost 20 years would pass before he expanded beyond the dimensions of the page and began a second career as a designer of theatrical sets and costumes. Sendak was a great opera fan. In the late 1970s, he began creating designs for operas and ballets

A new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City opens this summer to explore this little-known aspect of Sendak’s extraordinary artistry. Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet exhibits 150 drawings from the Morgan’s collection of nearly 1,000 Sendak drawings focusing on his five most important stage productions: Mozart’s Magic Flute, Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen, Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and an opera based on Where the Wild Things Are. The works include early sketches and studies, storyboards, watercolors, and painted dioramas. The exhibition also includes earlier pieces on loan from The Maurice Sendak Foundation’s collection of 10,000 Sendak works, and some surviving props and costumes from the productions.

A selection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century works from the Morgan’s collection by artists who influenced Sendak will be displayed alongside his designs. Throughout his career, Sendak drew inspiration from his visits to the Morgan, particularly his encounters with the compositions of Mozart, and the drawings of William Blake and Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo. The Morgan’s diverse holdings of music manuscripts, autograph letters, printed books, and Old Master drawings mirrored Sendak’s own wide-ranging passion for music, art, and literature. […]

“Few people know that Maurice Sendak had a long and productive relationship with the Morgan. It is exciting to focus on his work as a theater designer, which is an often overlooked but important aspect of his career as an artist,” said Director of the museum, Colin B. Bailey. […]

“This exhibition will be a wonderful surprise to those who are familiar with Sendak primarily through his beloved books,” said Rachel Federman, Assistant Curator in the Modern and Contemporary Drawings Department and the curator of the exhibition. “His designs for opera and ballet have all the beauty, humor, and complexity of his picture books and illustrations, but they also put on full display his passion for art, art history, and music.”

The exhibition opens June 14th and runs through October 6th, 2019.

Share

Galle Chandelier restored sans goldfish

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

A magnificent gilded bronze chandelier with a uniquely whimsical design is the subject of a new exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The Galle Chandelier was made in 1818-9 by bronze caster and gilder Gérard-Jean Galle in Paris.  Acquired by the Getty in 1973, it has been on display at the Getty Center, one of the gems of its decorative arts collection, since 1997. Earlier this year it was removed for conservation and is now back on view in Flight of Fancy: The Galle Chandelier.

The new exhibition places the chandelier at eye-level so visitors can view the piece up close. On display along with it are images of some of the design details and prints and illustrations that explore Galle’s inspiration for the work. There are also be interactive video panels that will show a rendering of what the chandelier looked like with the candles lit.

Gérard-Jean Galle came from a family of casters and gilders. His father Claude was one of the premier producers of gilded bronze of his time, creating works for Marie Antoinette, among others. The son took over the family business after his father’s death in 1815, but expensive decorative ornaments weren’t in high demand in post-Napoleonic France. The restored Bourbon monarchy was constitutional now and keen to distance itself from the dizzying spending and ostentation of the Ancien Régime. While what was left of the old nobility did return, they did so in highly reduced circumstances, their ancient feudal powers gone and their lands worked by people they actually had to pay. The new money, businessmen and the professional class, didn’t have the same passion for festooning shiny gold geegaws in every possible nook and granny.

Galle’s skill and craftsmanship were certainly recognized. He won the silver medal at the 1819 Exposition des Produits de L’Industrie Française (Exhibition of French Products of Industry), but got little business from it. He tried the direct approach, writing a letter to Louis XVIII offering to sell  the works he had exhibited at the Exposition for a price that would be “modest for the government.” The government declined.

One of those objects was a chandelier that was either the twin of the one owned by the Getty or the very same. Galle called it a lustre à poisson (fish chandelier) and described it thus in the letter:

Fish chandelier: In the middle of a blue enameled globe scattered with stars is a circle with the signs of the zodiac and six griffins carrying candles … [below is a glass bowl fitted with] a plug intended for the removal of the water which one places in the bowl with small goldfish whose continuous movement will give agreeable recreation to the eye.

The idea of a live fish swimming in a bowl under a chandelier lit by 18 candles is certainly, uhh, innovative. I can’t imagine the fish would have had a good time of it. The globe design was a novelty as well. The gold zodiac symbols on the blue field remind me of the Montgolfier brothers’ historic hot air balloon which first took to the skies before King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles in 1783.

Galle’s workshop stayed in business despite the royal refusal. He received a gold medal at the Exhibition of Products of French Industry in 1823 and finally did sale some of his pieces to Louis XVIII, earning the title fournisseur de sa majesté (supplier to his majesty), but it wasn’t enough to bring him any financial security. The Revolution of 1830 kneecapped his market yet again. He was forced to cut his workforce in half and the business ultimately went under. He died in poverty in 1846.

Flight of Fancy: The Galle Chandelier will run through April 19th, 2020.

Share

Treasures emerge from Rijksmuseum storage

Friday, April 19th, 2019

The Rijksmuseum is showcasing some of the humble magnificence from its storage depot. This group of domestic and everyday use objects haven’t been on display for at least a hundred years, overshadowed by the museum’s extraordinary collection of masterpieces.

They’re getting their moment in the sun thanks to the Netherlands Collection Centre , a new shared storage building currently under construction in Amersfoort which will maintain the stored treasures of the Rijksmuseum, Paleis Het Loo, the Dutch Open Air Museum and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands all in one state-of-the-art facility. To prepare for the move, the Rijksmuseum is revising their inventory entries for each piece, taking new photographs and writing new descriptions.

The objects range in date from the Middle Ages to the 19th century and will be displayed in five different galleries. The Middle Ages are represented by the museum’s entire collection of bronze mortars and pestles, used in pharmacology and perfume-making and for grinding spices in the home. The oldest mortar is a marquetry red copper and niello piece made in Khorasan, Persia, between 1100 and 1225. It is octagonal on the outside and cylindrical on the inside. The rest of the collection are of European, mosty Dutch, manufacture and decorated with all kinds of motifs from florals to lion heads to saints and hearts and slightly threatening studded ribs.

The Dutch Golden Age, so often associated with great artworks by the likes of Rembrandt, is viewed through a homier perspective in 17th century fireplace and kitchen bricks and tiles and cast iron firebacks. They performed an important function, protecting homes from areas of open flame, but that’s no reason not to make them a beautiful adornment as well. If I didn’t love my kitchen and fireplace as they are, I would be sorely tempted to get my mastic on and cover every conceivable surface with them. I mean, Scipio and Hannibal glowering at each other across a roaring fire? Yes please.

We may think of them as relatively mundane objects today, but when the mirrors in this collection were made in the 16th through 19th centuries, they were extremely expensive in materials, craftsmanship and human life as toxic mercury was essential to the process. This is reflected in their frames, which featured elaborate gilding, carving, molding and marquetry inlay. Some aren’t even looking glasses, but rather used as a striking medium for portraiture.

Small in size but not in stature are textile samples from 19th and early 20th century designers. Fabric swatches by Theo Nieuwenhuis, a student of Pierre Cuypers, architect of the Rijksmuseum whose design paid a great deal of attention to interior decoration with colorful, highly patterned wall frescoes and furnishings, are examples of the upholstery and wall textiles that once adorned Amsterdam’s Shipping House and other important city buildings. Most of the original interiors were discarded and replaced when fashions changed or they wore out.

Because the Rijksmuseum is very kind to those of us not fortunate enough to have regular access to it, almost all the objects on display in this exhibition have been collected in a Rijkstudio gallery so we can browse them online.

Share

Nero’s Domus Transitoria opens to public

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Nero was so closely associated with his insanely huge Golden Palace on the Oppian Hill that his previous abode, the Domus Transitoria, was entirely eclipsed by its successor. It was called the Transit House because it extended from the Esquiline to the Palatine so the imperial family could move from one hill to the other moving solely through the buildings, gardens and pools of his private 9,000 square foot palace. It too was constructed of opulent materials from patrician estates that had gradually fallen into imperial hands and was considered obscenely luxurious when it was built in the 50s A.D. It burned down in fire of 64 A.D. and Nero took advantage of the destruction of large swaths of the city to build the Domus Aurea by way of replacement.

The first remains of the Domus Transitoria were discovered in 1721 by the noble Farnese family. Like with the Domus Aurea, it was the surviving frescoes that caught the eye, their small fantastical details inspiring artists in the grottesque style. The Farnese helped themselves to whatever they wanted and what they wanted was those frescoes. They were chiseled off the walls and wound up in the collection of the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Most of what’s left of the palace — a triclium surrounded by porphyry columns, opus sectile floors, vaulted ceilings, an elegant nymphaeum, a communal latrine facility that sat 50 and is believed to have been built for the work crews who built the Domus Aurea after the fire — was excavated by Giacomo Boni in the 1910s.

The Domus Transitoria has never been open to visitors before, but after a decade-long program of structural reinforcement and renovation, you can now descend into the ruins of palatial rooms and gardens that were once ground level. As with the phenomenal Domus Aurea tour, there’s a virtual reality component here too.

Visitors receive virtual reality goggles which bring the dank chambers to life, showing them as they were 2,000 years ago – part of a huge palace decorated with marble pillars, lavish frescoes, mosaic floors and fountains.

The walls were painted with garden scenes, including trees, flowers and song birds.

Inspiration for the design of the sumptuous residence came from a palace built for the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy in Alexandria, said Alfonsina Russo, the director of the archeological zone that encompasses the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

“It reflects the personality of Nero, one of the most controversial figures of the Roman Empire,” said Prof Russo.

The Archaeological Museum of Naples has loaned the frescoes looted from the palace in the 18th century for the reopening. The Palatine Museum just a few steps away has a few frescoes of its own removed in the 1950s as well as statues and other decorative pieces recovered from the Domus Transitoria.

The tour of the Domus is included in the new Roman Forum-Palatine ticket (16 euro) which is valid for a day. The Domus Transitoria can only be visited from Friday to Monday. Included in the price of the ticket is entry to the Palatine Museum, the Neronian Cryptoporticus, the Domus of Augustus, the Domus of Livia, the Temple of Romulus, Santa Maria Antiqua and the imperial ramp of Domitian. You have no idea how hard I tried to get into Santa Maria Antiqua and Domitian’s ramp my last two visits to Rome. No one’s keeping me away next time.

Share

Stolen de Kooning conservation, plus a crazy twist

Friday, April 12th, 2019

Woman-Ochre, the hugely valuable painting stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1985 and rediscovered in the modest home of a New Mexico couple after their estate was sold in 2017, is being restored by conservators at the Getty Museum and specialists at the Getty Conservation Institute. Cut out of its frame and rolled up by the thieves, then crudely stapled to a frame, the canvas was in poor condition when it was recovered. The University of Arizona has wisely decided to bring in the heavy artillery in the form of Getty experts.

The Getty is well versed in the work of de Kooning, whose idiosyncratic working methods have created intense speculation and debate among conservators and art historians, primarily from visual inspection and anecdotal accounts rather than rigorous technical analysis. In 2010, the Conservation Institute worked closely with Susan Lake, then head of collection management and chief conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., on an in-depth study of de Kooning’s paintings from the 1940s through the 1970s, published by the Getty as Willem de Kooning: The Artist’s Materials.

The Getty-University of Arizona project will also be a teaching tool, providing access and information to graduate-level conservation and science students at local universities as well as those from the University of Arizona.

The restoration begins this month and is expected to take about two years. The painting will be briefly displayed at the Getty Museum in 2020 before returning home to the University of Arizona.

In the meantime, the investigation into the theft continues. The FBI won’t comment on the case until they’ve completed their investigation, but there is new information from non-law enforcement sources, and y’all, this is a crazy, CRAZY story.

Quick recap: November 29th, 1985, the day after Thanksgiving, a man and a woman entered the UofA Museum of Art in Tucson. The woman distracted the security guard while the man cut Woman-Ochre out of its frame, rolled it up and hid it under a coat. Fifteen minutes after walking in the door, the couple walked out and neither they nor the painting they stole were seen again for 32 years.

In August of 2017, David Van Auker, Buck Burns and Rick Johnson, owners of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques in Silver City, New Mexico, bought a bunch of stuff from the estate of Jerry and Rita Alter in Cliff, New Mexico, for $2000. Jerry, a retired music teacher, had died in 2012. Rita, a retired speech pathologist, died in June 2017. After her death, her nephew and executor of the estate, Ron Roseman, put the contents of their house up for sale.

It was customers of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques commented that the de Kooning sure looked a lot like a real one. A little Googling and a call to the University of Arizona and the next thing you know, its authenticity was confirmed and the painting was on its way back to Tucson.

The rediscovery of a painting that a conservative estimate based on past sales of works from the series would value at something in the neighborhood of $150 million in a little ranch house in rural New Mexico made big news, of course. How had the Alters acquired it? Nobody in their family knew anything about it. It was hanging in their bedroom blocked by the door and could only been seen from inside the room. Ron Roseman didn’t even know it existed until January of 2017 when he was helping out his aunt as she struggled with dementia in her final months.

After the find made the press, Ron found an interesting photo when going through some old family pictures. It was of his aunt and uncle smiling as they spent Thanksgiving of 1985 with family. In Tucson. This is that picture:

This is a composite sketch of the thieves published in the Arizona Daily Star of December 5th, 1985:

The getaway car was a rust color. Except for one blue one at a different time, the Alters only owned red cars. The painting only shows evidence of having been reframed once after the theft, an amateur hack job using a commercial pre-made frame, not custom work. Van Auker said it was coated in thick dust and that the frame’s outline was marked on the wall when he removed it. He’s sure the painting had been fixed in that place for decades.

Yeah. And it gets crazier.

The Alters wrote three books together, one about traveling, another about poetry and a twist on Aesop’s Fables.

“The Cup and The Lip: Exotic Tales” features fictional accounts of travel adventures. In one story, “Eye of the Jaguar,” a grandmother and her granddaughter case a local city museum and then return to steal its prize exhibit, a 120-carat emerald.

The thieves leave behind no clues. The jewel is kept hidden “several miles away” from the museum, behind a secret panel, “and two pairs of eyes, exclusively, are there to see!” he wrote.

No fingerprints were left at the scene of the crime. There was no security video in the museum at that time. There is no hard evidence to be found more than three decades after Woman-Ochre was purloined. But it sure does look like the Alters might just have done the unthinkable and pulled a massive heist for the sheer pleasure of looking at an abstract expressionist nude until the day they died. Is it weird that I can’t help but admire that a little? I mean, I can’t deny having fantasized about snagging some amazing artifact or artwork and cooing over it in secret for centuries as it shriveled me up and extended my life unnaturally like Gollum.

Share

Marie Antoinette’s rooms reopen at Versailles

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

In January of 2016, the Queen’s State Apartment, the grand rooms occupied by the Queens consort of France from Louis XIV’s wife Maria Theresa to the doomed Marie Antoinette, were closed to the public as part of the “Grand Versailles” project, a massive 17-year, €500 million program to restore, upgrade and improve the buildings and grounds of the palace. The Queen’s rooms were in need of significant conservation and upgrades to the fire safety systems, utility networks, air treatment and climate control.

The four adjoining rooms — the Queen’s Guard Room, the Royal Table Antechamber, the Nobles’ Room and the Queen’s Bedchamber — had been hard done by heat. King Louis-Philippe (r. 1830- 1848), seen here turning into a pear, had heaters blowing in the palace that were way too hot and couldn’t really be controlled. The heat of the summer was bad enough, raising the temperature at the highest point under the ceilings to 115F. A new climate-adaptive air system was installed with humidity regulation controls.

After more than three years of painstaking labour, the Queen’s State Apartment will reopen on April 16th. In order to replace the ductwork and pipes behind the walls, the decorative woodwork had to dismantled, bronzes and textiles removed. Carpenters, goldsmiths, the silk weaving house of Tassinari and Chatel and many other artisans and trades were involved in the reconstruction and restoration.

Extensive studies were undertaken to recreate the original paint schemes, restore textiles and other decorative elements. The rocaille decorations on the wall, a trompe-l’oeil technique that used plaster, rock and seashells to create the illusion of gilded swirls, crests and cupids, created for Marie Leszczynska, wife of Louis XV, was rediscovered under thick layers of overpaint. The delicate blue grey background paint has been restored making the faux gilded elements stand out again. A grisaille allegory by François Boucher’s representing the queenly virtues of charity, piety, liberality and prudence was restored to its original softness as well with the removal of discolored overpaintings and varnishes that had left the figures looking yellowed and flat.

Two exhibitions will open in the rooms on Tuesday dedicated to three queens who called this apartment home and gave birth to 19 princes and princesses of France there. Marie Antoinette has the biggest name recognition, but Marie Leszczynska (who I know almost nothing about beyond the fictionalized account in the awesomely entertaining and even more awesomely confusing anime Le Chevalier D’Eon) is finally getting a little attention too, as is Madame de Maintenon, morganatic wife of Louis XIV.

On a technically unrelated but in a weird way related note, the palace will be throwing a rave this summer in the Halls of Mirrors. It’s a celebration of French electronica label Ed Banger Records and will feature the label’s top four DJs spinning at the foot of the Hall of the Mirrors to the delight of crowds grinding it out on a massive dance floor that will be erected on the terraces of the Château de Versailles overlooking its impeccable gardens. Grab your gilded pacifiers and most rococo glow sticks and book your tickets for the June 8th event here.

Also, Google Arts & Culture has a nifty online exhibit called Sciences at Versailles that uses artworks and objects to explore the role technology, engineering, astronomy, geography and other scientific pursuits played at the courts of Louis XIV and his successors.

Sciences at Versailles chapter 1: science & power
Sciences at Versailles chapter 2: astronomy, queen of sciences
Sciences at Versailles chapter 3: discovering new worlds, geography
Sciences at Versailles chapter 4: cascade creation, water engineering
Sciences at Versailles chapter 5: botany & zoology, a taste for exoticism
Sciences at Versailles chapter 6: fit for a king, medicine and surgery
Sciences at Versailles chapter 7: the science show, physics and chemistry
Sciences at Versailles chapter 8: mechanics, automatons and hot-air balloons

Share

Canadian T. rex is world’s largest

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

A study by University of Alberta paleontologists has confirmed that the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex found in Saskatchewan is the largest known T. rex specimen in the world.

The first piece of the 66-million-year-old giant was discovered on August 16th, 1991, by Eastend high school teacher Robert Gebhardt who was learning how to find fossils in the field with a team of University of Alberta paleontologists. In the exposed bedrock along Saskatchewan’s Frenchman River Valley, Gebhardt discovered the base of a teeth a tail vertebra. Their size and shape indicated they were from a Tyrannosaurus rex. That night the team celebrated the find with a bottle of Scotch and named the dinosaur after their celebratory tipple.

Getting him out of the rock would take another two decades of painstaking work by paleontologists, students and volunteers. Excavations began in June of 1994, each fossilized bone chipped out of the bedrock by hand one at a time. By the time the last bone had been recovered, it was 2014 and it was clear that not only had they found the Saskatchewan’s first T. rex, but that Scotty was a splendid example.

Approximately 65% of the skeleton was found and puzzled together over years. The reconstructed skeleton indicates Scotty was 43 feet long and weighed around 19,400 pound making him the largest known T. rex ever found. He was also the longest-lived.

“Scotty is the oldest T. rex known,” [U of A paleontologist Scott] Persons explained. “By which I mean, it would have had the most candles on its last birthday cake. You can get an idea of how old a dinosaur is by cutting into its bones and studying its growth patterns. Scotty is all old growth.”

But age is relative, and T. rexes grew fast and died young. Scotty was estimated to have been in its early 30s when it died.

“By Tyrannosaurus standards, it had an unusually long life. And it was a violent one,” Persons said. “Riddled across the skeleton are pathologies — spots where scarred bone records large injuries.”

Among Scotty’s injuries are broken ribs, an infected jaw and what may be a bite from another T. rex on its tail—battle scars from a long life.

Scotty will go on public view at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum this May. The museum has been working assiduously to create a new exhibition space that will do the massive creature justice. The RSM is doing a full renovation and redesign of its upper and lower gallery entrances that will give visitors the opportunity to view Scotty from two perspectives, foot level and eye level. The upper level isn’t just a catwalk or perch, but rather a fully functional second tier that can be used to host events supervised by the unblinking gaze of a T. rex’s eye (socket).

Share

Navigation

Search

Archives

July 2019
S M T W T F S
« Jun    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Other

Add to Technorati Favorites

Syndication